Bar-tailed lark (Ammomanes cinctura)

Also known as: Bar-tailed desert lark
Synonyms: Ammomanes cincturus
French: Ammomane élégante
GenusAmmomanes (1)
SizeLength: 14 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Discovered by Charles Darwin on the Cape Verde Islands off the north-west of Africa (3), the bar-tailed lark is a small, relatively plain songbird with a rounded head and a short bill (2). There are three recognised subspecies, which occupy separate locations and have slight differences in plumage. Subspecies Ammomanes cinctura cinctura is mostly tawny-rufous above, with a faint buff stripe above the eye, along with orange-rufous flight feathers with black tips on the wings and a black band near the end of the tail. The underparts are pale whitish-buff, with an orange tinge on the breast, while the bill is sandy pink and the legs are pale brown. Ammomanes cinctura arenicolor has paler upperparts, more sandy pink in colour with less black on the tail and flight feathers. Ammomanes cinctura zarudnyi is much greyer above and less white below, with a thicker tail band. The calls of the bar-tailed lark include a dry, purring “prrit” or “cherr” and a thin, descending “peeyu” or “see-oo” (2).

The bar-tailed lark has a wide, but fragmented distribution extending across northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Subspecies Ammomanes cinctura cinctura is found only on the Cape Verde Islands, while Ammomanes cinctura arenicolor has a much wider distribution, being found across the Sahara desert from southern and eastern Morocco, east to Libya and Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula, with isolated populations occurring in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Ammomanes cinctura zarudnyi occurs in eastern Iran, east to south Afghanistan and southern Pakistan (2).

The bar-tailed lark mainly inhabits deserts with less than 100 millimetres of annual rainfall, but also occurs in semi-desert regions with stony or sandy soils and sparse or absent vegetation. While this species generally inhabits lowlands, it may also be found at elevations of up to 1,700 metres in Pakistan (2).

The bar-tailed lark is most commonly encountered foraging on the ground, usually in small flocks when outside the breeding season, taking food from the surface and sometimes digging for invertebrate prey. This species mainly feeds on seeds and insects such as grasshoppers (2). In order to survive in the harsh desert environment, the bar-tailed lark is forced to seek shade during the hottest part of the day, sometimes using burrows of the large herbivorous lizard Uromastyx aegypticus for shelter (4). Although the bar-tailed lark is not migratory, individuals may disperse in search of less arid areas, especially during droughts (2).

The bar-tailed lark’s breeding season is determined by rainfall, with egg-laying generally occurring between January and April in north Africa, from September to June in the Cape Verde Islands, and mostly between mid-March and mid-April in the Middle East. The male attracts a mate by singing while flying in an undulating, roughly circular path, before making a steep descent to the ground. After establishing a breeding pair, the female constructs a nest which comprises a shallow depression in the ground beneath a rock or beside a stone, bordered by pebbles and lined with vegetation. A clutch of two to fours eggs is laid, which is incubated for around 12 to 14 days, after which time the chicks are brooded and fed insects by both parent birds. The chicks leave the nest after around 11 days and complete fledging roughly two to four days later (2).

The bar-tailed lark is not globally threatened and is considered to be common in most localities (1) (2).

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the bar-tailed lark (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)